Tag Archives: xenophobia

Launching a new action plan, “Stop Soros”

In an article that was written yesterday but appeared only today in the early morning edition of Magyar Idők, the well-informed government paper reported that “an action plan is being formulated against George Soros and his network.” This action plan necessitates amendments to already existing laws. The paper got wind of two such impending legal changes. One would allow the assessment of dues or levies on nonprofit organizations that “support migration.” The other action that needed a legal basis was banning George Soros’s entry into Hungary. According to Magyar Idők, the government sought a way to ban dual citizens who pose a national security risk to the country. Zoltán Lomnici, Jr., a far-right so-called constitutional lawyer whose opinions are almost always legal nonsense, suggested a solution that would allow the expulsion of dangerous dual citizens who live abroad on a permanent basis. The other expert to whom Magyar Idők turned for his opinion was Ágoston Sámuel Mráz, director of the pro-government Nézőpont Institute. Mráz is a great deal more intelligent than Lomnici. He opined that the proposed law is “only a symbolic defense instrument.” In brief, it is a propaganda ploy serving domestic political purposes in preparation for the election to be held on April 8.

If Mráz is correct, I’m afraid the Orbán government is assuming a great deal of risk in the international arena with this proposed piece of legislation. After a cabinet meeting this afternoon, the Hungarian government released an article in English on the official website of the Prime Minister’s Office, About Hungary. Here are the most important provisions of these bills:

  1. Every organization that supports illegal immigration by using foreign financial resources would be registered and obliged to report on its activity.
  2. A tax would be imposed on the foreign funding of organizations supporting illegal immigration. This public income would be invested in border protection.
  3. It would be possible to issue restraining orders against those who take part in organizing illegal immigration. In essence, such restraining orders would apply in any area that is within 8 kilometers of the Schengen border. In special cases, a third-country citizen would be subject to a restraining order anywhere within Hungary. This measure would remain in force until the end of the migration crisis.

It is instructive to compare this English text, obviously intended for foreign consumption, with the one Index published in Hungarian.

  1. Every organization that supports illegal immigration by using foreign financial resources would be registered and obliged to report on its activity.
  2. Over and above the registration, those organizations that receive more money from abroad than from Hungary will be obliged to pay 25% of their support as a levy. The money will be collected by the National Tax Authority. If the organizations don’t fulfill their duties, the prosecutor’s office must take action against them. If the prosecutor’s office finds unauthorized activity, it will appeal to the court.
  3. A new kind of restraining order will be introduced: implicated foreign nationals will be barred from Hungary while Hungarian citizens will not be able cross an eight-kilometer border zone next to the Schengen borders.

During a joint interview given by Interior Minister Sándor Pintér and Undersecretary Zoltán Kovács, who is in charge of communication, a few more bits of information were dropped. For example, to my astonishment I discovered that those NGOs that are guilty of assisting illegal migrants will have to “acknowledge their complicity on their own.” If they fail to do so, they will be sanctioned. So, if I understand it correctly, the whole scheme is based on self-incrimination. I’m therefore not surprised that some people believe that the government has no intention of actually adopting these measures.

As far as the banning of George Soros from Hungary is concerned, it seems that the government thought the better of it. In fact, to my great surprise, Pintér announced that “George Soros doesn’t carry out illegal migration activities,” and therefore he has nothing to fear. However, Kovács added that if he ever does so, the law will apply to him just as it does to everyone else. The report published by Eurobserver claimed that “UN personnel and diplomats would not fall under the possible restraining order, and MPs who have reason to be in the area will also not be excluded from the border zone.”

The targeted NGOs, such as the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and TASZ, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, charged that these proposals are not only confusing but also most likely unconstitutional. They go against past rulings of the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice. I’m no lawyer, but Orbán’s own Basic Law guarantees the free movement of citizens anywhere in the country.

I know that Orbán and his minions are too young to have lived through the Rákosi era, when Hungary had so-called “border zone” (határsáv) along the Yugoslav and Austrian borders, but still they ought to know that the comparison will be inevitable. In those days a special permit was required to enter this restricted zone. Most of the peasants who were forcibly removed from their villages, stripped of all their possessions, and deported to the Hortobágy region of the Great Plains came from villages inside the zone. The word “határsáv” has a very bad ring to it.

In the opinion of the spokesman of TASZ, it is also illegal to impose dues on money received from abroad because one cannot make a distinction between monies from domestic and non-domestic sources. I’m also sure that as the proposals are put into more final form, legal experts will offer even more criticism.

Some commentators think that Assistant Undersecretary Kristóf Altusz’s embarrassing revelation to the Times of Malta and the subsequent fallout at home prompted this latest “Stop Soros” action. The new action is, they argue, an attempt to divert attention from what someone called “the Orbán government’s Őszöd,” referring to Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány’s speech to the MSZP parliamentary caucus in 2006 in which he admitted that, although they knew about the sad state of the economy, they kept it a secret because of the forthcoming national election.

Altusz, in response to insistent questioning about Hungary’s refusal to admit any refugees,  blurted out that “last year alone Hungary took about 1,300 refugees, but, very often, such cases were not publicized by the government as it could put the beneficiaries in danger.” For more than two years the Orbán government sought to convince the Hungarian people that it wouldn’t allow a single migrant to settle in Hungary, and now it turns out that 1,300 “Muslim invaders,” to use Viktor Orbán’s words from his recent interview with Das Bild, have received shelter in Hungary.

One family among those who received asylum in Hungary

The Orbán government is building its entire election campaign on the migrant issue, and now it seems that, after all, there is a difference between illegal migrants and refugees, as Altusz explained. Moreover, the argument that a refugee must settle in the closest safe country is now in tatters. The government just admitted in an indirect way that Hungary is obliged by the Geneva Convention to give shelter to refugees, even from faraway Iraq, Syria, or Afghanistan.

Hungarians have heard nothing else in the last two or three years but how dangerous these people are; they are terrorists who will kill them and rape their daughters. Just recently, Orbán ordered mayors to organize resistance to settling nonexistent migrants in their cities. And now we learn that the government, behind the frightened people’s backs, allowed 1,300 of these dangerous people to settle in their country. The overeager Kristóf Altusz delivered a serious blow to a carefully crafted political construct and rallying cry.

If Viktor Orbán decided to launch the “Stop Soros” campaign in order to divert attention from this uncomfortable slip by a junior diplomat, I think he is making a mistake. These issues touch upon the very essence of European Union values. To flout them for the sake of an electoral victory, which everybody predicts will be his, is foolhardy.

January 17, 2018

Justin Spike: Hungarian village vents its hatred of refugees

Justin Spike’s article on the recent upheaval in the village of Őcsény first appeared in The Budapest Beacon under the title “Hatred of refugees has fundamentally changed the town–Hungarian village succumbs to state propaganda.” In a separate post to appear shortly, I’ll comment on the event and its aftermath.

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Residents of the Tolna county village of Őcsény in southwest Hungary held an emergency village assembly Monday evening. So many members of the roughly 2,000-person community attended that not everyone was able to fit into the community center. They had come together to discuss what they considered an imminent threat to their village: the arrival of several refugees, mostly women and children, for a few days of vacation.

The residents had gotten wind of the cooperation between a local guesthouse owner, Zoltán Fenyvesi, and the Migration Aid civil organization to bring four rounds of six or seven refugee children with adult chaperones to the village for a week of relaxation in the guesthouse and sightseeing tours in the region.

Upon hearing of the plan, residents convened the assembly, which Fenyvesi attended. The meeting was so hysterical and full of shouting, the guesthouse owner said, that he didn’t have the chance to speak.

The half-broken sign once read “European village” / Source: 24.hu / Photo: Rudolf Karancsi

Later that night, the tires on two of Fenyvesi’s vehicles were slashed.

“The people were so dismissive at the village assembly that the guesthouse owner and the civil organization couldn’t even say what their plans were,” said Őcsény mayor János Fülöp, who has since resigned. “They said things like, ‘These people are animals, they’re not even human. They’re terrorists, they’re going to blow things up and rape the children’.”

Hatred of refugees has fundamentally changed the town

Of all the many problems facing countryside villages – “no medical care, the closure of the savings banks and the post offices, no firewood” – what everyone is talking about nowadays is migration, mayor Fülöp said.

“This was only about 30 people, mostly women and children, that would have come here,” he said. “They would only have been at the guesthouse at night, because in the daytime they wanted to bring them to monuments, and to Pécs and the surroundings.”

Fülöp, who resigned his 11-year post as mayor of Őcsény Wednesday night after a special meeting of the local council, insisted that “not every refugee is a criminal and Islamist fanatic. These people received the protection of the Hungarian state, they went through a serious inspection based on international treaties.”

Fülöp said he’d resigned because the village had become divided, and he didn’t want to contribute to furthering the tensions.

“I’ve been mayor here for 11 years, and in that time I remember peace and quiet. No one spat on or cursed each other. That’s finished now,” he said, adding that he thinks the hatred of refugees has fundamentally changed the place.

Fenyvesi, the owner of the Csengettyűs guesthouse, agreed.

“I trusted that there would be a normal debate at the village assembly where I could convince the people, but I told them in vain that this was about children. There was no chance for a discussion,” Fenyvesi said.

“They’re not afraid, they’re horrified,” he told 444.hu of the residents. “They said they hate them! They really think that one migrant here will become six, six will become 12, and in the end they’ll take over all of Őcsény and all of Hungary.”

Őcsény residents told daily newspaper Magyar Nemzet that they didn’t believe the refugees would only stay for a few days. One woman said she’d heard they would be moved into vacant houses in the village, and was afraid they’d bring diseases. Another said she’d seen on television how the refugees behave: “They rape everyone.”

One local man on a bicycle approached a Magyar Nemzet journalist and insisted the residents shouldn’t interact with “political monkeys,” since every newspaper and television station works for George Soros. He considers Fenyvesi, the guesthouse owner, a “Soros agent” as well, he said.

A petition is reportedly being circulated in Őcsény which aims to ban migrants from the community indefinitely.

If the shepherds had not been from Bethlehem, but from Őcsény…

According to its website, Migration Aid is “a volunteer civil initiative providing live-saving emergency assistance for asylum-seekers who need it.” The organization recently ran into similar local opposition when it arranged to provide accommodation for refugees in a town near Lake Balaton. At that time, Fidesz politicians and government media insisted the organization was “settling” illegal migrants in Hungarian villages as part of the government-contrived, much-touted “Soros Plan.”

Fenyvesi responded to a Migration Aid ad seeking volunteers to provide vacation accommodation for refugees who have received the official protection of the Hungarian state. He offered his 9-bed guesthouse to the organization free of charge.

It’s not the first time Fenyvesi has used his guesthouse to accommodate disadvantaged people. He said he has often taken in “people in difficult social situations” to stay there for free.

“If I can accommodate poor Hungarian children, and among them very many Gypsy children, I would add, then why not suffering refugee families with children?” he asked. “I’d be really curious that if the shepherds had not been from Bethlehem but from Őcsény, then would Jesus lay down among the cattle to rest in the manger, or somewhere outside like a homeless person?”

But Fenyvesi’s goodwill was met with hostility in Őcsény: after the village assembly, he was threatened and his property was damaged.

“They literally threatened me, that they would separate my head from my body!” he told 444.hu. “In the night there was a huge bang, a brick was thrown at my van. We saw in the morning that six of my eight tires had been slashed. I ask you, if someone is banging someone’s car mercilessly in front of their house in the night, and they’d threatened them before…then will he feel terrorized or not? I wonder, is that terror or not?”

Fenyvesi has decided not to host the refugee children, “not because they terrified me or anything like that, but because I saw those mothers and how shocked and horrified they are and how much they hate, and a mother’s love for her children is above everything.”

He said he doesn’t blame the residents for what has happened, but government propaganda which has incited so many Hungarians to hate.

“And those who threaten me, I’m not mad at them,” he said. “Nor at the tire slashers. Because they’re actually really good folks. They go wild over certain topics and become unpredictable. I think I’m going to discuss it with them; we go to the same bar. Either we’ll come to an understanding or I’ll get life insurance and that’s it. You don’t have to live forever.”

September 29, 2017

Mária Schmidt on George Soros, the grave digger of the left, Part II

Yesterday I began dissecting Mária Schmidt’s latest propaganda piece,“The Grave Digger of the Left,” which offers up second-hand conspiracy theories about George Soros’s philanthropic endeavors. In the second part of my analysis I will concentrate on the “Hungarian experience” with “Sorosism,” as she calls Soros’s “ideology mix.”

In Schmidt’s view, Hungary was a guinea pig for Soros, who learned the tools of his evil trade in the country of his birth. It was in Hungary that he figured out the kinds of organizations worth investing in, organizations that would then “serve his interests.” He quickly discovered that Prime Minister József Antall and his successor, Péter Boross, both of MDF, were not willing to be partners in his shady schemes. So, Soros had to concentrate on liberal intellectuals in the social sciences and in the cultural sphere in general. He used decoys like programs for the Roma and providing medical supplies to hospitals to lure people into his camp.

He was so successful that by today “left” in Hungary equals “Soros.” All of his pet projects have been adopted by the Hungarian liberals and socialists: political correctness, the environment, feminism, same sex marriage, support of migrants, legalization of prostitution, etc.

Schmidt, who begins her essay with a quotation from Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror,” further exhibits her familiarity with Western pop culture by comparing Soros to “the evil but super intelligent Silva” in the Bond film Skyfall, who “with obsessive and missionary zeal aims at world domination.” Soros’s results, she admits, have been spectacular. For example, “as everybody knows, the network of Soros’s civilians was behind the colorful revolutions in Ukraine, Georgia, and the Arab spring.” In fact, at one point Schmidt charges that Soros himself boasted about his success in creating “a Soros Empire out of the Soviet Union.” I don’t know how we all missed the “fact” that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the handiwork of George Soros. Now, according to Schmidt, Soros’s target is the European Union itself.

Mária Schmidt’s “evil but super intelligent Silva”

At this point we get to the real reason Schmidt wrote this essay. Viktor Orbán’s vicious anti-migrant rhetoric has been extremely effective, with the overwhelming majority of Hungarians now the most xenophobic group in all of Europe. The hatred Orbán planted in Hungarian souls has taken root. The challenge for the Hungarian government is how to keep nurturing this hatred. By now there are no migrants around, and there is fear in government circles that this hatred may wither over time. And if it withers, support for Orbán may wither as well.

The government has therefore begun to personalize the migrant crisis, coming up with enemies who can in one way or another be tied to it. Soros, of course, tops the list. Time and again Orbán has blamed “the migrant crisis” on George Soros. Since Central European University was founded by George Soros and some of the NGOs receive small amounts of money from the Hungarian-American financier, they can be targeted. And Brussels is an old stand-by. Whatever the problem, Brussels is always at fault.

To xenophobic Hungarians the very mention of outside influence or pressure on the country makes them flock to Orbán as their only defense against this “foreign invasion.” And since Viktor Orbán has as his overarching goal to remain in power regardless of the cost to the country and its people, this goal is well served by calling attention in every way possible to the dangers foreigners (migrants as well as international capitalists) pose to the Hungarian way of life.

Central European University is in the government’s crosshairs because, as Schmidt puts it, the university is Soros’s “replenishing base” for liberal cadres in Hungary and elsewhere. An illiberal state, one would think, cannot allow such a place to exist within its borders. But Schmidt doesn’t go that far, most likely because she knows that the tug of war between the Orbán government and CEU won’t end with closing the university in Budapest. So she is satisfied to state the lie that the government, by insisting that the same rules apply to CEU as to other Hungarian universities, only wants to send the message that George Soros “isn’t omnipotent and invulnerable.”

Her final shots are directed not just at Central European University but also at the kinds of universities that exist in English-speaking countries and that are so highly valued worldwide. She tells us how enthusiastic she was when CEU moved to Budapest. Many people, herself included, looked upon it as a sign of the end of the old university system. Soon enough, however, they realized that CEU didn’t contribute to pluralism within the social sciences. On the contrary, it became a supporter of “post-communists.” Instead of employing the old Hungarian Marxists, the university imported western ones. “Discarded American, Canadian, Israeli, Western European Marxists found secure positions for a few pleasant years in the departments of CEU,” she charges. And just as they became disillusioned with CEU, over the years Schmidt and her ideological comrades became disillusioned with Anglo-Saxon type universities in general. Now that she and her comrades speak English and are well informed about the world, unlike in the Kádár years, they know about the intolerance in American and British universities where they don’t want to listen to voices contrary to their liberal tenets. Hungarians “don’t want to have ‘safe spaces’ for those at CEU who don’t want to listen to others.”

Schmidt’s blanket labeling of all those who teach at CEU as “discarded Marxists” shows an ideological blindness that is appalling, especially from someone who has academic pretensions. And her reference to the “safe spaces” inside the walls of CEU is outright frightening. If Orbán, Schmidt, and their ideological partners keep going down the road they embarked on in 2010, the Hungarian younger generation who, according to Schmidt’s own admission, has been poisoned by Soros, will find “safe spaces” outside the country. We are getting close to this point.

April 17, 2017

Joseph Forgas: The disdainful leader–Planting primitive propaganda in fertile soil

Although Orbán’s communication seems increasingly shrill, much of the government propaganda consciously relies on manipulating the damaged Hungarian national identity. In Hungary future generations will suffer the  psychological consequences of the combatant, anti-Western, hostile public narrative  – says the world-renowned social psychologist  Joseph P. Forgas, in Hungarian Forgács József,  who has for the past five years been studying the Fidesz communication strategy built upon Hungarian national character.

What does Viktor Orbán know or think about the Hungarian people, when he declares war not only on the Western world, but slowly on common sense too?

A nation’s national identity is determined by the history and the culture of its inhabitants, an essential element of which is how we interpret the world and how we see ourselves. The Hungarian national character is in many ways fundamentally distorted and flawed, the causes of which are deeply rooted. For many centuries, Hungarian history consisted of setbacks, defeats, and crushed revolutions. These failures were accompanied by a typical narrative, which, according to social psychology research, is characterized by a marked victim mentality, resignation, self-pity, blaming others and an absence of accepting any responsibility. This pessimistic mental representation is compensated for by an often grandiose, unrealistic and romanticized nation-image, which visualizes a world-beating role for the Hungarians. A typical example is the bizarre system of selecting of “hungaricums”. There is no other country where the national identity is so fragile that it has to be bolstered in such a blatant manner and where an official committee decides that we should be proud of – for example, of a Hungarian salami or sausages, as if such goods did not exist elsewhere. Apparently the Hungarian national character needs such crutches to maintain its brittle self-esteem.

The Fidesz communication in the last five years has manipulated this damaged, self-pitying national identity by using demagogic and populist strategies to create non-existent enemies to blame for every failure. Such strategies can work because of the absence of a sufficiently well-informed and autonomous middle class who see through this. Actually, when Orbán speaks about the middle class, he means something completely different. He seeks to create a clientele dependent on the state, but a real middle class is characterized by independent thinking, by success achieved through individual effort and autonomous thinking and behavior.

To what extent can a defeated nation improve its self-esteem if it demonizes the most unfortunate? While the dead bodies of hundreds of refugees are washed up on the waterfront of Lampedusa, we are consulting with the government whether these asylum seekers are terrorists.

Given that xenophobia, ethnocentrism and mistrust are much stronger in Hungary than in surrounding countries, such dishonest and misleading communication can indeed work here for a while. It is remarkable that the Prime Minister seems to believe that his followers are so unintelligent that even the transparently manipulative intentions of the “national consultation” will go unnoticed. The term “national consultation” is itself a lie. It is not “national”, but party political propaganda at taxpayer’s expense, and not a “consultation” because as a poll it is completely useless. A first-year student would fail if he/she produced such a questionnaire, because this poll doesn’t meet any criteria for a usable survey. Perhaps this may be the point when the remaining Fidesz faithful will slowly realize that they have been cheated and that their leader simply looks down on them.

Isn’t there a risk that the political left will also be forced to embrace the emotional communication, to simplify and aggressively convey their message? Can a sensible and intelligent debate be conducted with so much “noise” around?

I think the Left has to find another way to address voters. There is great need for patriotism and national pride in Hungary given our damaged and insecure sense of national identity, and this can be addressed in more acceptable ways. It is hard to understand why the opposition has completely ceded the concept of patriotism to the Right, they seem scared to speak on this topic. Yet there is scope for a positive, patriotic approach from the opposition, that unlike Orbán, emphasizes our true historical values. One could be justifiably proud of Hungary’s thousand year history as an assimilative, integrative culture absorbing many different groups. Historically, the culture and strength of Hungary have always been enhanced by the assimilation of countless minorities. For example, although our national hero Petőfi had not one drop of ethnic Hungarian blood, he became Hungarian, as did many other great figures of our history. The divisive, ethnocentric politics of Fidesz looks for enemies everywhere, yet our thousand-year history is about exactly the opposite: about the success of inclusion and assimilation as a means to survival.

We lack solidarity not only toward “foreigners”, we are not solidarity with each other. The nurse with the educator, the bank debtor with the students. Is this discord associated with the Hungarian national character, and can it be used or abused respectively?     

A typical feature of successive dictatorships is that they expect their citizens to keep out of public affairs and to show no group solidarity. This has a strong cultural tradition in Hungary, the Kadar regime worked the same way. This is what “we got used to”, the lack of solidarity has become a distinctive Hungarian feature. The results of one of our representative national surveys show that Hungarians see of the world as fundamentally unfair, they are convinced that public life is not worth participating in, that people can have no control over the affairs of the world, and so the suffering of others are none of their concerns.

If we have nothing to do with the western cultures, nor do we care about out compatriots, is it worth opening toward the East, for example, hard-working Chinese man and women?       

The so-called “opening to the east” is an entirely demagogic and doomed conception. Such a romanticized Eastern ‘Turanian’ (ancient totem eagle) nationalism was first invented in the Horthy era and is now revisited. There is no historical basis for this, and, of course, there is no viable eastern alternative either. People in the East would also like to live like the Westerners, they are trying to adapt the successful social and political models created by the Western civilizations. There is simply no viable alternative to Western liberal democracy and the market economy. Western societies are the best place to live in and the world’s richest and most influential countries all follow this model. Incidentally, all Hungarian emigrants also head west, and not east. The various eastern role models named by Orbán have nothing to do with each other, except their autocratic orientation. It is foolish to say that they represent a viable future. It seems that Orbán fundamentally misunderstands the Western world, underestimates the power and adaptive ability of Western democracies. He has never lived in the West, the concepts of democracy and the market economy are alien to him. It is a national tragedy that such a half-educated man, a typical product of the late Kádár system now leads the country, who unfortunately understands only autocracy.

And the fight. As if he defines himself with that alone.

Every authoritarian regime, everyone with a dictatorial tendency needs enemies to define his profile, to make himself important. The Fascist and Communist periods were also defined by the constant struggle against real or imagined enemies. For the first time in 500 years, Hungary does not need to fight with anyone, we have no real enemies, we finally were able to join Western Europe, and are free to develop autonomously. It is a national tragedy that instead taking advantage of this historic opportunity, Orbán has decided to turn against the West, and so leads the country into a hopeless dead-end street. Our set of values are also moving away from western world, and away from our immediate neighbors as well, as several Tárki surveys show. The national consultation, the debate about the death penalty are nothing more than manipulative distractions from the growing number of scandals, the endemic corruption and the ever more transparent lies. One can only hope that the majority of voters will finally wake up and realize how badly cheated they were.

What could be the long-term consequences of the Orbán world? What kind of psychological legacy could these years leave us with?

The economy can be revived, the institutional system can be renewed in a couple of years, but the psychological consequences of creating such a distorted mental representations about the world may handicap Hungary for many generations. My friend András Inotai summed it up: there is a spiritual genocide going on in Hungary right now, and I think there is a lot of truth in this.

In a country which happens to be already rather backward compared to prevailing European culture and values, Orbán’s dishonest propaganda capitalizes on an enduring sense of inferiority and lack of self-confidence, in order to stir up feelings of hostility against the West, also increasing xenophobia and ethnocentrism. Democracy presupposes a certain kind of individualistic and autonomous mental view about the world and corresponding psychological attitudes. For democracy to work well, citizens must adopt a self-confident, independent, rational and responsible mind-set and a sound national identity grounded in reality. What is happening now, fundamentally undermines the future opportunities for such a development. This is extremely irresponsible and is likely to cause continuing damage for the nation.

This interview, conducted by Anna Kertész, appeared on May 16, 2015 in Vasárnapi Hírek. It was translated by a member of our community, “Observer.”

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—Joseph Forgas is a social psychologist, professor at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. He was born in 1947 in Budapest and emigrated to Australia at the age of 22. He earned two doctorates at Oxford University, lived in England, the US and Germany for several years. “As a Hungarian it is a huge disappointment to me that Hungary seems to turn away from the democratic values ​​and the free market economy of the West and seeks a kind of authoritarian, dictatorial alternative.”


To understand how this could happen requires a socio-psychological approach – what shaped the Hungarian mentality, and why does the otherwise transparently demagogic and primitive Fidesz propaganda find such fertile ground here? “- says the professor.

His main area of ​​research is examining the role of emotions in social behavior. One of the dominant and internationally recognized figures in the field, his experiments contributed significantly to our understanding of the influence of emotional states on the formation of stereotypes and the development of social processes.

He published about 26 books and countless scientific articles and chapters; in recognition of his contribution, he was awarded the Order of Australia, the Humboldt Research Prize, the Rockefeller Award and was elected member of the Australian and of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

Before 1989 his work could not be published, however, since then several of his books have been translated into Hungarian, and his books are used in the teaching of social psychology, for example, his book The Psychology of Social Interaction. He visits Hungary regularly, and follows Hungarian public life closely; in the last few years, since the rise of Fidesz’ power he has been studying the role of Hungarian national identity in political communication.

The anti-immigration propaganda has its limits: The latest Tárki poll

There are some days, mind you not too many, when one starts to believe that Hungary’s future is not as bleak as we are inclined to think. It looks as if Hungarians, once they’ve had time to reflect, are not so easily manipulated.

The reason for optimism is a new Tárki poll on xenophobia and anti-immigration sentiment. The company has been measuring the level of anti-foreign attitudes on a yearly basis, but this year they decided to conduct a second survey after the regular April one. The sociologists wanted to measure the effect, if any, of the intense anti-immigration campaign by the Orbán government. And here is the surprise and cause for some hope: the number of those who categorically reject the acceptance of any and all immigrants has dropped from 46% to 39% in two months. At the same time, the number of those who would make their decision on an individual basis has grown from 45% to 56%. This is a surprising and very welcome development, which shows that the enormous effort and considerable amount of money the Orbán government spent on inciting hatred and xenophobia hasn’t been as effective as they expected. Like all “political products,” to use Gábor G. Fodor’s term, this particular political ploy also has its limits.

This development is especially surprising because one would assume that the arrival of thousands of refugees day after day would make a decidedly negative impression on the population. Most Hungarians know by now that the vast majority of the arrivals move on within days, but the fear lingers that one day they will be sent back to the country where they entered the European Union. And yet the outright, en bloc rejection of all migrants/refugees hasn’t spiked.

Tárki published their figures on anti-immigration sentiment between 1992 and July 2, 2015, which shows interesting fluctuations. It starts in 1992 with a low 15% of respondents who would not allow a single immigrant into the country. I assume that also included members of the Hungarian diaspora. In the first four years that number grew considerably, reaching 40% in 1995. It’s difficult to know the reasons for that steep increase. It might have been the very hard economic times that befell the country during these years; people who are poor usually don’t welcome newcomers. Also, in that period there was an influx of about 50,000 refugees from warring Yugoslav territories, which might have made a difference in public sentiment. From 1996 on, the numbers settled around 28-30%, except for the years of the first Orbán government (1998-2002). Viktor Orbán during this period was at odds with all of Hungary’s neighbors and several other countries, including the United States. His harsh rhetoric might have influenced public opinion. After 2002, the negative attitude toward immigrants subsided until 2011, when it began to climb again with the arrival of the second Orbán administration. It reached its peak at 46% in April 2014. Clearly, Orbán’s harsh anti-foreign rhetoric does make a difference, but if we can believe today’s figures, it has its limits.Tarki graphOf course, these figures are still very high. Let me give you a few figures from the United States where a 2014 poll showed that 46% of Americans thought that all immigrants should be welcomed to the United States. That’s up from 33% in 2010, 24% in 2007, and around 20% in the mid-1990s. Those who say that there should be no immigration whatsoever dropped to 19%. In May the Pew Research Center published data on the attitude toward immigration in seven European countries (France, Germany, Spain, UK, Italy, Greece, Poland) which found very little enthusiasm for increased immigration and a great deal of support for less immigration. In Greece and Italy the opposition to immigration is very high: 86% and 80% respectively.

In Hungary, the rejection of Arabs is considerable: 76% would not allow them to settle in Hungary, although those people most likely don’t know that there are already a few thousand Muslims in the country, some of whom are citizens. Mind you, other Europeans also have an unfavorable opinion of Muslim minorities, varying from country to country, but even in tolerant Germany, France, and the UK the figures are high: 33%, 27%, and 26% respectively. Tárki didn’t release figures on Africans, but I assume that their negative numbers would be even higher than those for the Arabs.

The total rejection of immigrants is highest in the regions close to the Serb-Hungarian border where the migrants enter the country and lowest along the Austro-Hungarian border.

As far as the ideological makeup of the respondents is concerned, 54% of Jobbik sympathizers would close the door to all immigrants as opposed to 39% across the board. Unfortunately, we don’t have detailed information on Fidesz supporters or followers of the democratic parties. However, the Pew Research Center’s survey shows that in all seven countries studied, people who sympathize with the right are much more inclined to reject immigrants, while liberals and socialists are the most tolerant toward immigration in general.

As expected, education is a factor when it comes to the attitude toward immigrants. Only 13% of university graduates reject all immigrants’ acceptance in the country. Their rejection is also low among those who are planning to seek work abroad or who think of emigration: 12% and 17% respectively. These people can easily see themselves being disliked and/or discriminated against abroad, and therefore they sympathize with the plight of the arriving migrants. While people on the lower rungs of the economic scale are very much against immigration (43%), people of some means are a great deal less so (15%).

I left the most puzzling finding to last. Only 17% of those who attend church every week want to banish all immigrants. This is especially strange since the so-called historical churches have done practically nothing to alleviate the hardship of these migrants. Pope Francis can talk about compassion and charity, but his words don’t seem to resonate with the Hungarian high clergy or the so-called religious charitable organizations. On the other hand, it is possible that parish priests and local ministers, in response to the influx of migrants, called attention to Jesus’s teachings on the judgment of nations. The famous passage, Matthew 25, says that the Son of Man will divide the nations into righteous and accursed ones. On his right will be the righteous ones: “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” On his left will be the accursed ones who left him hungry, thirsty and naked. They “will go away into eternal punishment” whereas the righteous will be rewarded with “eternal life.”

The fence “matches the brutal policies of Premier Orbán”

One of Viktor Orbán’s most successful political ploys, we often read, is to divert attention from the failings of his administration by bringing up new topics that dominate the news. So, the argument goes, last fall’s crisis that erupted after revelations that the U.S. had banned certain Hungarian officials from entering the United States due to corruption and this spring’s scandal of government involvement in the financial fraud of the Quaestor Group almost automatically led to the “creation” of the grave immigration crisis. Yes, the talking heads maintain, there is a serious immigration crisis in the western part of the European Union, but that is not the case in Hungary. Ninety-nine percent of those who cross the Serb-Hungarian border leave the country at the very first opportunity.

I am one of the few people who don’t subscribe to this theory. I am convinced that Viktor Orbán honestly believes that Hungary should remain uni-cultural and that the mixing of cultures brings only strife and conflict. Commentators tend to forget that already in August 2014, while delivering a speech to the country’s ambassadors, Orbán lashed out against immigration, stating that “the goal is to cease immigration altogether.”

Unfortunately, his own personal beliefs happen to coincide with the feelings of the majority of the Hungarian people. Orbán is a smart, if corrupt and immoral politician, who knows better than most people that the majority of Hungarians are xenophobic. Over the years, polling results unequivocally showed that Hungarians didn’t want to let immigrants into the country. They didn’t even want to have anything to do with “pirézek,” a nonexistent group of people. So, one doesn’t have to be a political genius to know that the “immigration card” is a sure bet. It will always work. Especially if it is presented in such a way that the population comes to believe that it is Viktor Orbán and his government who are defending them from a peril that threatens their way of life.

Such rhetoric can dramatically influence public sentiment, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Fidesz and Viktor Orbán’s popularity increases in the next few months. This game is not about diverting attention but about regaining popularity and hence retaining power. Preferably for decades to come. Orbán always seems to be capable of coming up with clever new ideas to secure his position. Whether these moves are injurious to the country’s reputation or its position in the European Union interests him not at all. Simply put, he is ready to do anything to remain the prime minister of Hungary. And as long as the Hungarians swallow his ideas hook, line, and sinker, he will succeed at his game.

A lot of people on the left are skeptical about the polling results of Századvég and Nézőpont, and they are certainly correct when it comes to Nézőpont, but Századvég numbers are more reliable. Therefore, I don’t seriously question Századvég’s latest poll on the population’s reaction to the three billboards that the government created in order to incite Hungarians against immigrants. It turns out that the majority of Hungarians agree with the billboards’ messages. Eighty-five percent agreed that the immigrants must obey the laws of the country, which is no surprise at all. Seventy-five percent agreed that they have to respect Hungarian culture. Even the most controversial message, “If you come to Hungary, you can’t take away the jobs of Hungarians!” is supported by 59% of the population. In the case of the first two questions there is no discernible difference between pro-Fidesz and pro-Jobbik respondents on the one hand and supporters of parties of the left on the other. When it comes to taking jobs away, those who reject the message come only from the left. However disheartening it may be, the majority of the population supports this sickening campaign.

All of the non-Hungarian newspapers I looked at today disapproved of the way the Orbán government is handling the crisis. First of all, almost everybody agreed that the problem is European-wide and can be managed only by the joint effort of all the member states. In addition, almost all the newspapers decried the brutish methods employed by the Hungarian government. As Die Zeit says, the construction of the 175 km-long security fence “matches the brutal policies of Premier Orbán.”

The idea of building a wall was first suggested by László Toroczkai, a neo-Nazi who last year became the Jobbik mayor of a village close to the Serbian border. That was back in February. Once again, Fidesz is taking over a Jobbik idea. Admittedly, there are other walls and fences all over the world by now which, by the way, are no answer to migration. But in Hungary’s case sealing the border with Serbia is especially shameful. Twenty-six years ago, on June 27, 1989, Gyula Horn, the country’s foreign minister, along with his Austrian counterpart, cut the wire fence between the two countries to symbolize the beginning of a new era. The country allowed thousands of East German refugees to cross to Austria and freedom. Hungary also sent its own share of refugees to other countries in 1956, refugees who found sympathy, shelter, and eventually new homes abroad.

A funny comment on the wall by an "internet artist"

A comment on the fence by an “internet artist”

Serbian prime minister Aleksandar Vučić was “surprised and shocked,” and tomorrow at a Serbian-Hungarian summit he most likely will reiterate his reaction. He declared that Serbia will not follow Hungary’s example: “it will not build walls … and will not live in Auschwitz.”

As for the seriousness of the situation, opinions differ widely. Jan Schroth, head of the Czech office of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), claims that the current situation is neither dramatic nor unusual. The only difference is that too many people are dying needlessly at the borders of the EU. Using IOM’s data, he alleges that in the first half of the year 100,000 refugees arrived, while last year the total number was 200,000. So, there is no appreciable increase in the numbers. In his opinion, “Europe with its population of 500 million could easily absorb one million immigrants over a number of years.”

A lot of economists would agree. The birthrate in European countries is very low, and hence their populations are aging rapidly. For the most part the immigrants are young, and they could contribute to economic and demographic growth. The Hungarian situation has been particularly bad as far as the country’s demographics are concerned. The last time the fertility rate was over 2, which would have kept the size of the population more or less stable, was in 1979. Since 1981 the natural change has been consistently in negative territory. In 1981 the country’s population was 10,700,000, while in 2014 it was only 9,849,000. This is an 8% decrease. To this figure we could add the almost half a million Hungarians who have left the country in the last ten years or so and yet remain on the census rolls. All efforts to change this trend have failed, and I see no other remedy than a gradual but determined policy of immigration. But for political purposes Viktor Orbán is doing everything in his power to prevent such a course of action.

Hate campaign against immigrants, rev. 2.0

The Hungarian government simply refuses to stop its campaign against immigrants despite the obvious failure of its national consultation effort. At the end of April the government announced its intention to spend 2 billion forints on poisoning the souls of Hungarians by mailing them a questionnaire with leading questions designed to incite hatred and fear of possible immigrants and refugees. When the commissioner for refugee affairs of the United Nations received a translation of the questionnaire, she could only gasp. Yes, she had heard about it and knew that it was bad, but when she actually read the questions she was shocked and “deeply concerned by the way the government increasingly vilifies people who have fled from war zones like Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq and who desperately need safety and protection in Hungary.” Yes, this government vilifies people who would need Hungary’s help, and it is not ashamed to show its true face to the world. It may even be proud of its tough “Hungarians first and only” stance. Viktor Orbán certainly doesn’t see anything wrong with his government’s behavior. He is convinced that his is the right way and that it is a position that Europe as a whole should follow.

Most observers think that Viktor Orbán is spreading “the bad name” of Hungary and Hungarians, some of whom are utterly ashamed of their prime minister, even of the fact that they belong to the same nation as he does. What will the world think of them? Well, some foreigners have already asked: how on earth could you elect such a man to be your prime minister? Or, how could you give him that much power? Especially the second time around? Or, why are you quiet, why don’t you send him somewhere where he will be far away from power and politics?

Well, the fact is that the vast majority of Hungarians didn’t fall for Orbán’s xenophobic campaign. That’s the good news. Eight million questionnaires were sent out, and thus far only 200,000 have been returned. Among them, I’d wager to say, given the mood of the country, several probably included unprintable remarks about Viktor Orbán and his government. At any event, a 2.5% response rate–and that by government calculations–is dismal, pretty close to what direct marketers can expect. To improve the stats, Hungarians can now answer the questionnaire online, and they will have two more months to do so. By the end it is possible that a much larger response figure will be announced, the accuracy of which, of course, we will not be able to ascertain. Nor will we know how they answered the questions.

Despite the poor response thus far, it looks as if the officials working in the prime minister’s office still think that they might be able to squeeze some political benefit out of this shameful topic. They switched into campaign mode to sell the original idea more aggressively. Perhaps their famous “communication” wasn’t effective enough, and if they turn up the volume a bit they will shift the mood of indifference to the anti-immigrant propaganda into one of frightened acceptance. They plan to use stronger language and better methods to increase Hungarians’ awareness of the dangers of immigrant hordes. They already tried hammering home the slogan that “Hungary should remain Hungarian,” but it didn’t have the desired effect. What about appealing to fears that immigrants will take the job of the natives? It looks as if this is the new scare tactic of the government.

During a press conference Zoltán Kovács, undersecretary for public diplomacy and relations, announced that this new “information campaign” will also include plastering the country with anti-immigration posters. It didn’t take long for the Hungarian media to get hold of a photo of one such poster from a print shop that got the job of producing 333 large billboards with the message: “If you come to Hungary you cannot take away the jobs of Hungarians!” At first blush, this poster looks like a joke since would-be immigrants couldn’t possibly understand the text. The message is, I assume, directed at the locals. The population should realize that if Hungary accepts 700 or so political refugees their jobs might be in jeopardy. They should therefore band together and support the prime minister to prevent these alien, job-grabbing people from settling in Magyarorszag.

"If you come to Hungary you cannot take the jobs of Hungarians!"

“If you come to Hungary you cannot take the jobs of Hungarians!”

Yes, the hate campaign is on. There are two more posters  in the works, and Index learned that the government in this new campaign is concentrating on areas along the southern border where specific anti-immigrant messages will be sent. I’m not sure what they expect. Perhaps that the local inhabitants will chase the immigrants away or round them up to be taken into police custody. But if I were the government, I would be careful. All that hate might be translated into action, and one day a “true believer” might just shoot some of the people crossing the border in the dead of night, rationalizing his foul deed by saying that these people were either political or economic terrorists who had to be stopped, that–just like the prime minister–he was protecting the country he loves.